Will Janoris Jenkins be worth the risk for one NFL team?

One could make the argument that there’s less intrigue at the top of the draft this year than there is at the bottom.

It would appear as though Andrew Luck will go to the Colts at No. 1 and the Redskins will select Robert Griffin III at No. 2. While the Vikings are reportedly looking at three prospects sitting at No. 3, if they choose Matt Kalil then other pieces could predictable fall into place. (Such as the Browns selecting Trent Richardson at No. 4, the Buccaneers taking Morris Claiborne at No. 5, and the Rams picking Justin Blackmon at No. 6.)

But one of the biggest questions facing teams selecting in the bottom half of the first round is whether or not talented but troubled North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins will be worth the risk.

For those needing a recap, Jenkins was kicked off the team at Florida for two marijuana arrests, an assault charge and a failed drug test. He’s also been given the gift of fatherhood, although four of his children were born to three different women.

The thing is, Jenkins can play. Behind LSU’s Morris Claiborne and Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick, Jenkins is the third best prospect in this year’s draft class. He has average height and weight at 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, but where he excels is in coverage. Once he learns the nuances of the pro game, wideouts will have a tough time creating separation from Jenkins in either man or zone schemes. And while he didn’t face the stiffest competition at North Alabama, he played in plenty of press man and doesn’t shy away from contact when lined up in a receiver’s face.

The NFL is now a passing league and a player like Jenkins is awfully valuable because of the position he plays. But Pacman Jones was just as talented, if not more talented, coming out of West Virginia in 2005 and we’re all aware of his troubles. They might be two different people with two different paths in the NFL, but Jenkins hasn’t been able to shake the comparisons of Jones, who is on his third NFL team because he can’t stay out of trouble. Jenkins may go on to never commit another crime the rest of his life and wind up being a good father and role model. But as of this moment, teams can’t help but look at Jenkins and see Jones starring back at them.

So the question becomes, will Jenkins be worth the risk? To me, the NFL draft is all about value. You don’t draft on need – you stay true to your pre-draft rankings and you take the player at the top of your board. Granted, if two prospects are similar and one of them plays a position of need, then you obviously go with the player that also fills a need for you.

At some point, Jenkins will come to the top of a team’s draft board. That team can’t be sacred about taking him because at that point it becomes more about value and less about risk. Teams determine a prospect’s value based on, among other things, character concerns. Thus, if they stay true to their board, then that’s when it’s appropriate to take a leap of faith and trust that the kid will mature.

Remember, it only takes one team to fall in love with Jenkins – not 32. He’s a first-round talent and that’s where I expect him to inevitably be selected.

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Top 5 Small-School 2012 NFL Draft Prospects

Here are my top 5 small-school prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft.

1. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Jenkins is technically a small-school prospect because he finished his collegiate career at North Alabama. But he’s a former Florida Gator that was booted from the team last April following his arrest on misdemeanor marijuana charges. Assuming he can stay out of trouble off the field, Jenkins is a solid cover corner with the ability to play in multiple schemes. At 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, he doesn’t have the best size but receivers will have a tough time separating from Jenkins once he gets a feel for the pro game. Even despite his off-field problems, he should go somewhere in the first round.

2. Amini Silatolu, OG, Midwestern State
Silatolu continues to draw more and more attention as the draft nears. About a month ago he was projected to go in the late second or early third, but now he’s being projected as an early second or late first-round pick. Like most small-school prospects, Silatolu has some technique flaws to his game that need to be ironed out. But he has the size (6’3”, 324 pounds), the explosion, and the foot quickness to be a quality starting guard at the next level. I love the guard class in this year’s draft and Silatolu has as much upside as any other prospect.

3. Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina
Norman has some character concerns that will drop him into the third or fourth round, but the kid doesn’t lack confidence and he was a playmaker in college. He had a very good performance at the East-West Shrine game and just like Jenkins, is scheme-versatile. He takes too many risks at times and he ran in the 4.5-range at his Pro Day, but that was also reportedly on wet grass. Again, there are character concerns but Norman has the talent to be a steal in the middle rounds.

4. Brian Quick, WR, Appalachian State
Quick is a natural athlete for a big man (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), and he has some upside to his game. He’ll never be a receiver that separates because he doesn’t have great speed, but he’s highly coordinated despite not picking up the game until his senior year in high school. He’s a former prep basketball star so a team might fall in love with him in the second round. I think he’s a better value in the third, but there’s no question he’s an intriguing athlete that would be a fit for any team because of his route running ability.

5. Trumaine Johnson, DB, Montana
Yet another corner with some character concerns attached to his name (although he was reportedly arrested for trying to break up a fight, so I’m not sure if he’s really a concern or just a victim of some bad luck), Johnson has great size at 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds, and could turn out to be a very good press corner at the next level. What’s most attractive about Johnson is that some list him as a cornerback, while others see him as a free safety. His ability to play either position at the next level will only make him more attractive on draft day and could be a great fit for scheme-versatile teams like the Bears, Vikings or Falcons. He’ll go somewhere in the second or third round.

2012 Senior Bowl: Five players to Watch

You draftniks ready for another year of speculation, frenzy and intrigue leading up to this year’s NFL draft? Here are five players to keep an eye on this Saturday the 2012 Senior Bowl kicks off from Mobile, Alabama.

Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
The consensus ranks Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III as the top two quarterbacks in this year’s draft, but who will be the third signal caller to come off the board? Some like Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill but keep an eye on how Foles plays this weekend. He’s a big kid at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds and made strides as a senior this past year despite playing behind two freshman tackles. Arm strength definitely won’t be a problem but his accuracy and decision-making has often been questioned throughout his collegiate career. Once Luck and Griffin come off the board in the top 10 picks, Foles could be selected anywhere between the first and third rounds. Thus, this is one player that could definitely improve his draft stock with a strong showing in Mobile.

Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Top-rated defensive tackle Devon Still of Penn State will miss the Senior Bowl with a sprained big toe, so here’s Ingram’s chance to steal the spotlight. This isn’t regarded as a very strong draft for pass rushers but Ingram is a raw talent that can get to the quarterback in a variety of ways. He’s a three-technique defensive lineman who proved he could consistently beat blockers on the inside while at South Carolina. That said, 4-3 and 3-4 teams will take a long look at him because he exhibits a fast first step and good burst off the ball. He does a nice job of shedding blockers in the run game as well so again, he’ll intrigue teams that run a 3-4.

Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
USC’s Matt Kalil and Iowa’s Riley Reiff are projected to be the top two tackles taken off the board but Adams is already gaining some attention in Mobile because of his frame. He’s massive at 6-foot-7 and 323 pounds, with an 82 1/2 –inch wingspan and huge 11-inch hands. Despite his size, he’s a good athlete with natural bend and is being viewed as a left tackle at the next level (as opposed to some college prospects that are forced to move to the right side because of limitations in their game). He was suspended the first two games of the 2009 season for violating team rules, was cited in January of ’09 for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia (chargers were eventually dropped) after being stopped for running a stop sign, and was part of the group that was suspended for “Tattoogate.” But he has all of the physical tools to become a top 15 pick in April.

Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas
The top receiver in this year’s draft, Justin Blackmon, is a junior, while Kendall Wright, Michael Floyd and Nick Toon have all been declared out of the Senior Bowl with various injuries. Thus, Saturday is a great opportunity for a guy like Adams to impress. He returned a punt for a touchdown in Arkansas’ victory over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl, which was his fourth punt-return TD of the season. He’s a perfect fit in the slot because of his quickness and vertical ability, as well as the fact that he has trouble disengaging defenders at the line. He needs to improve as a route runner but NFL teams will definitely look at him as a returner and a potential No. 3 wideout.

Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Jenkins was overshadowed earlier in his college career by former top-10 pick Joe Haden (Browns) at Florida and then was kicked off the team his senior year following his arrest on misdemeanor marijuana charges (his second run in with the law). If he can stay out of trouble this kid has a ton of natural talent and could be a steal in the second or third round. He played a lot of man at North Alabama and has the ability to develop into a very good cover corner at the next level. Because of character concerns he’ll likely fall further in the draft than he should, but he’s got first-round talent.

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